Achilles agony

It’s been four months since I first injured my achilles. A full recovery has eluded me, but I’m committed to coming back to long distance running.

At the time of injury – back in February – there were four weeks left before the race in Antarctica. I went to a physical therapist because after resting and icing it for two weeks straight, it was still hurting and I was worried I might have partially torn it.

The PT did a few stress tests and decided I had not torn it. He was explicit in his instructions. Continue to ice and rest it for a few more days, then start stretches and some heel lifts to strengthen it. Come race day, if it started to hurt, which it probably would, it was okay if I pushed through it. I couldn’t hurt it any worse.

Got it. Okay, thanks, PT. So, I did as instructed. I rested it. I iced it. I stretched it. I did heel lifts.

When race day came, I ran through the pain knowing I couldn’t hurt it any worse. All in all, I don’t think I did. Of course, it was really sore after the race and throbbed during, but the pain in the following days wasn’t any worse than the days that followed the initial injury.

When I got back home in late March, I rested some more and resumed with the prescribed therapy: stretching, ice, rest, and heel lifts. My achilles was feeling a little better, but not back to normal. I tried running a couple of easy miles on it at the beginning of April, but it ached during and after again. I took another two weeks off.

In the middle of April, I did a six-mile slow and relatively easy hike and it was just as painful as if I ran on it. So I rested it, I iced it, I stretched it and took another two weeks off. I also called the PT and asked for help on expediting the healing. He prescribed more exercises.

I did more exercises and the pain and soreness increased over the following two weeks. Finally, on May 5, almost three months after the original injury, I went to a new physical therapist.

After listening to the history of the injury, she did a few strength, flexibility, and balance tests. Then she spent twenty minutes digging into my leg and foot to feel out the inflammation and loosen up the calf and fascia. It hurt and I was sore after the appointment, but it helped and lessened the pain the next morning.

She also prescribed far fewer but more targeted stretches and exercises, which I did as promised. She recommended coming in 2-3 times a week, which I was happy to do.

It’s been nine days since I started, but the change in treatment has made a world of a difference. I’m actually starting to feel like I could really be running again in a few more weeks with this treatment plan.

I’ve learned two lessons in all this. First, it’s important to seek help early and often. It didn’t help that I waited almost two weeks before my first appointment and it didn’t help that I didn’t visit the PT again before the race or after I got back home.

Second, who your PT is matters more than you might think. I guess it’s like anything, the person who does a good job – either installing a dishwasher or repairing your knee – matters a lot. Whether it’s for your body, your mind, your mental health, or your spiritual healing, get help quickly, but shop around. Meet more than one expert. Get a few opinions. Don’t settle.

If you’re in the same boat, I’m happy to share any of the exercises or stretches that have helped me so far. Actually having the PT put their hands on your injury and work out some of the knots has made a huge difference too.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to take a little time off, but I’m so ready to get back to it. 🙏🏼🏃‍♀️❤️

Antarctica Half Marathon

We did it! 

A race four years in the making finally came to fruition. Even after illness and injury, I completed one of the hardest half marathons on the planet. It was hilly, rocky, windy at times, and unbelievably muddy. It was everything but freezing cold.

The race was set on King George Island. It was a little over a four mile loop out and back, set along the Uruguayan base. The race director said it was the best and warmest day in the race’s twenty year history. Thank you, global warming. 

Although we started out on a frozen tundra of dirt and rock, twenty or so minutes into the race, the temperature rose and capped out at a balmy 36 degrees. That increase along with ninety-some-odd runners trodding the path and a steady stream of glacier runoff created a sticky, sludgy mud path along with sizable puddles – the kind that steal your shoes if you happen to step in the wrong one – on the race course. 

The first loop was mostly run on tractor tire treads frozen in the mud. Every tread was an ankle bender so each step was placed carefully. It made for a concentrated effort and although it was cold, there was almost no wind, so I was very warm about half way in and ready to shed a layer.

On the second loop I pulled off a middle layer – a three-quarter zip fleece – and ran in a long sleeve technical tee and windbreaker the rest of the race. I also shed my gloves, which was a bad idea as the wind picked up during my second loop and I was shivering by the time I got back to my gloves around mile eight.

The race was entirely self supported and no plastics of any kind, including those that house nutrition from gels, beans, or in my case Starburst, were allowed on the island. Runners found interesting ways to squeeze their single serve packs of Gu or other gels into bottles that hopefully didn’t clog during the race.

I unwrapped about thirty candies and popped them into the little bag on my water bottle. The red stains on the blue bag still haven’t come out even after a couple of solid washings. Mental note: I need to find a new nutrition strategy. My friends used sport beans, and they seemed pleased with them. I’ll try them next race.

The last loop was the muddiest and messiest. My achilles was screaming and pulsing with pain, but I wasn’t about to cave. I had come this far and with only four miles left, I wasn’t about to stop. I walked up the hills and plodded lightly down limping a little to help relieve the throbbing.

When it was flat, I ran at about 70% effort. I didn’t want to miss out on all the hiking and excursions if I totaled my ankle. In fact, I ran all the way to the finish line.

I completed the half marathon with a time around 3:30-ish and a smile. It was the worst time I had ever run, but I was happy to cross the finish line at all, with both shoes still on my feet and my achilles mostly intact.